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Brexit's Doctor Doom came to the House of Commons with a simple message: we're all doomed

The man who told Theresa May the truth about Brexit but wasn't listened to, came to the House of Commons to carry on telling the truth about Brexit, and to carry on not being listened to

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Tuesday 16 July 2019 22:38 BST
Boris Johnson admits that the last time he cried was when his bike was stolen

Telling politicians that Brexit is a terrible idea that will go very badly is what put Sir Ivan Rogers out of a job, so it’s pleasing to see he’s still picking up a few freelance gigs.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee is one you do more for the “exposure” than the cash, but Sir Ivan wasn’t wasting any time boosting his profile.

A mere three years and several hundred political lifetimes ago, Sir Ivan was the UK Ambassador to the EU. In the 2016 New Years Honours List, in recognition of his unrivalled knowledge and understanding of the European Union, he had the letters ‘KCMG’ placed after his name. A year later, in recognition of exactly the same, he had the letters ‘former’ placed in front of his job title.

There was this guy, you see, called Nick Timothy. He’d written columns on the conservative home website about how great Brexit was going to be. And now he was kind of running things in Downing Street, and he frankly didn’t have time for this irritating thing called reality, not until 10pm on June 8 2017, anyway. Then he rather suddenly found out time was something he had significantly more of than he anticipated.

Both men are similar, in their way. Both suddenly relieved of a job, both have been busy, writing articles and giving speeches, explaining exactly why they were always right all along. The only, slight way in which they differ is that one of them was indeed right, and the other one wasn’t. Sir Ivan was sacked because no one wanted to listen to him. Nick Timothy was sacked because no one should have done.

Anyway. Here he was at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, breezily explaining how he’d been telling his French and German counterparts at the EU to start worrying about Brexit all the way back in 2011. There’d never even heard of it then. They were far more interested in Grexit.

(Grexit, Greece’s exit from the eurozone, never happened, in the end. It nearly did. Greece even voted in a referendum, to do it. But the Prime Minister realised it was mad, so he ignored the result. And what did the Greek people do, about this attack on democracy, that precious thing they, erm, invented? They realised he was right, it was mad. So he held an election and they voted him back in with an increased majority. A little Greek myth there for Boris Johnson to enjoy, even if this one does have the disadvantage of being true).

Here was Sir Ivan, patiently explaining how he’d patiently explained to Theresa May that her ‘solution’ to the Irish border problem was actually making it a significantly larger problem than it already was. Out the customs union, out the single market, no infrastructure on the border, no difference in regulations between Northern Ireland and the mainland. There were ‘red lines’ that bisected each other like a noughts and crosses board.

He’d said a deal was never going to be negotiated in two years, and two years later, it hasn’t been, so we’re going to leave without one, the outcome everybody said could never happen. Everyone apart from him, that is, the man to whom no one listened.

This was nothing he hadn’t said before, of course. He’s given academic speeches on the subject that have been published in short books. And it’s nothing he hadn’t said before he’d been sacked either.

He’s occasionally been referred to as Brexit’s Doctor Doom, after the American economist Nouriel Roubini, who gained that soubriquet for having forecast the 2008 economic crash and not been listened to. It’s an imperfect analogy. With the benefit of hindsight, there’s always someone out there who had the benefit of foresight, especially in the realm of economics. Mr Roubini however, wasn’t removed from his job, giving the correct advice to the correct people, but who didn’t want to hear it.

If it feels like a parable, it’s not. Sir Ivan is still telling the truth. And he’s still not being listened to. Nor will he be.

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